18 Apr ‘I remember Mom . . . ‘
by Don Bingham
When it comes to memories, there are so many that involve Mom in the kitchen.
As a tribute to Mom, we asked several readers in the 501 LIFE area to share a special memory related to their moms as homemakers and cooks for their families.
We’ve also included a recipe for your enjoyment. Happy Mother’s Day, moms!
My favorite memory of Mom’s cooking is the large pot of Great Northern beans and big skillet of cornbread. I can almost smell it right now. That was not a side dish but the complete meal for four growing boys and my dad.
Occasionally I try to replicate it. Sounds simple, but it never tastes as good as Mom’s.
– Terry Kimbrow
President, Central Baptist College
Vera Horton Purtle
When I think of my mother, I most often see her in the kitchen or bent over a sewing machine (she made clothes for three girls). She stood at the kitchen sink for hours and produced the most wonderful dishes, but what we remember is not just one dish, but a menu.
Mom had lived through the Great Depression, and then World War II brought even more deprivations. Meat was very scarce, so wartime menus began to stretch the meat with rice. We loved the “Porcupine” meatballs (so called because as the rice cooked it became spiky and stuck out of the round meatball). It has become a tradition with us to cook the meal exactly as she did: Porcupine meatballs simmered in a tomato soup, green Jell-O with fruit cocktail (so 1950s), creamed potatoes, English peas and cabbage and carrot slaw with Miracle Whip. This menu never fails to stir up memories, and the stories are shared again around the table.
– Janis Banister
Lifelong Conway resident
What I remember about mom in the kitchen… Mom always wore an apron – a red and white polka-dot one. She hardly ever followed a recipe but added a pinch of this and a dash of that and tasted as she cooked.
When you asked for a recipe, she could never tell you exactly how to make it. She used the same pots and pans she got when she married – the same rolling pin and cookie sheets. They looked pitiful, but I still use some of them today.
She was a messy cook but a darn good one. She was a great multi-tasker. Everything came out of the oven and on the table at one time. Every Sunday after church when we walked in the house, the smell of roast hit you in the face.
What I miss the most are her homemade rolls. She always said, “You better hurry and catch one before they fly away.”
– Melissa Castleberry
My mother doesn’t enjoy cooking as much as she enjoys celebrating. In my childhood she came to life preparing for special events like birthdays and holidays. Strawberry cake was a given for my birthday – and still is!
I thank God for my mom, who is still the life of the party in our family.
1 box white or yellow cake mix
1 large box of strawberry Jello
1 cup water
1 cup oil
1 box frozen strawberries (sliced)
1 cup powdered sugar
Mix and bake according to package directions. Easier in a 9×13 greased pan.
Mix strawberries and powdered sugar. Pour over cake while still warm. Cool completely and add Cool Whip with fresh strawberries on top! ENJOY!
– Mark Dance
Pastor, Second Baptist Church, Conway
Mamie Lillian Ward
Mother was innovative and determined in her kitchen to provide for eight children and assorted others, including her father. Dad was, by his own description, “a country preacher,” and the income level was always low. He and Mother had a great garden, and Dad worked field crops, grew hogs and chickens and hunted for wild game with skill and determination as Mom fleshed out our menu with skill and imagination.
She was Mamie Lillian Richardson before marriage, the daughter of a preacher. She did not plan to marry another preacher as she started dating. She fell in love with a barber. They married, and, before long, he began to preach. She had only a brief respite from being in a preacher family.
Mom was great with the pressure cooker, and when Dad would bring in game that was old and tough, she knew just what to do. Into the pressure cooker it went, with the appropriate seasonings, flour and the other things needed to make rich gravy. Meanwhile, she could whip up biscuits as fast and as good as you might imagine, and those, plus the game, gravy, potatoes and maybe another vegetable from the garden, would make a great meal for a table full of hungry Wards.
We all ate together, and Dad usually asked the blessing that made us appreciate the fact that we had something to eat at every meal. We were poor, of course, but we didn’t know it because everybody else in rural Damascus was poor as well, so we had nothing with which to compare our station in life.
One of the treats that I remember came at the break of the day when Mom went out to the smokehouse (where cured hams and bacon were hanging), cut out a big chunk of ham and sliced and laid it in that iron skillet while she got everything else ready. We had eggs from the henhouse, grits, red-eye gravy from the ham and those heavenly biscuits that nobody could equal. All of us children like to cook, but none of us have ever gotten those biscuits just right.
On a daily basis we had cornbread or biscuits (sometimes both), bowls of wonderful vegetables (canned or fresh) from the garden, potatoes and meat from the smokehouse or the freezer (when later we were able to afford a freezer). Hanging on the screened back porch were sacks of fruit that had been dried on the storm house roof and door, from which Mom could make the most delectable apple or peach fried pies you have ever had in your mouth. Butter was homemade, of course.
Perhaps to show her feelings about cooking and her responsibilities in the kitchen, one morning when Dad was away at a revival meeting and the kids were all gone, Mom said she thought it was silly to make biscuits for just one person, so she fixed a couple of pieces of toast. She sat down to eat, then got up and went to the kitchen to make some biscuits. “I just couldn’t eat that toast with fried ham and red-eye gravy,” she recalled.
– John Ward
Writer and Conway resident
Mom has always been a great cook. Mom’s big family dinners are fabulous, sumptuous affairs. Single-handedly, mom will pull it all together, warm and ready, at just the right time.
You can always count on some special salad, a green bean dish alive with flavors such as lemon and bacon and onions among others, doctored deviled eggs, a buffet of casseroles and some dressing with an explosion of tastes. The centerpiece is always a huge prime rib roast covered in seasonings and slow cooked until it practically slices itself when touched. I always like to go through the line last to gather all the corners and edgings coming from that most tender outer layer, which has such an abundance of seasoning.
Even at extended family gatherings where many mommas help with the food, my mom’s roast is always her contribution by popular demand. My cousins aren’t dummies. Several choices of desserts, all homemade, are always available afterwards to wrap up the feast, although some say her sweet tea is dessert enough.
That said, I remember most her cooking when I was a kid. Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s meant we very rarely ate out. Mom was in the kitchen every day. Limited by her picky children and husband and a more modest budget, she daily prepared good, solid square meals even if she could hardly get her boys to eat vegetables if they were green. She even cooked breakfast every school day. I still love a full breakfast, even if my waistline and doctor say that something now has to give.
Pot roasts in that big whistling pressure cooker drove you crazy before you finally got to eat what caused that wonderful aroma. Soft – never crisp – pan-fried potatoes with a little onion were a favorite staple with any main course. Everything always had a little kick of flavoring; mom never cooked anything bland.
As far as desserts go in my childhood, nothing had pride of place like mom’s pumpkin pie. She used a recipe she picked up in Chicago that called for Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. To this day I never order pumpkin pie out. It simply can’t touch Mom’s.
Frequently, meals started with my brother and I called and seated obediently at the table, dad in the living room watching every last bit of Walter Cronkite before having to listen from the table and mom in the kitchen finishing up the last remaining items (she always sits down last).
Even now mom can throw such a feast full of rich and exotic tastes. She is still always learning and experimenting with food. However, maybe out of the nostalgia of time, those simple meals from childhood and those rich flavors are what permeate my memory of growing up with my family and our regular times around the family dinner table.
My memories of my childhood home are filled with the many and wondrous aromas coming out of Momma’s kitchen. Those aromas are also deeply associated with love – a legacy of a mom’s love of her family and her family’s love of her.
– Tab Townsell
I remember my mom as one who always put me and my sister before herself. Her life consisted of helping others find the Lord and helping her children find their purposes in life. She was a stay-at-home mom who was there when we came home from school and always wanted to know about our days. She loved people, and she loved her family.
Her cooking skills were just enough to make sure we didn’t go hungry. I do remember one of her favorite desserts, though, and that was her “sad” cake that she would make in a black skillet. It was crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside – just the way I liked it. Mom went to be with the Lord on Dec. 5, 2005. I miss her SO very much, but know that, in Heaven, she is having the time of her life! And that makes me smile.
– Susan Baker
Wife of Sen. Gilbert Baker
Being raised by a gracious cook, Connie Westbrook is very special. Not only does she have a gift for cooking, she has a master’s degree in home economics. Whether it be for bridal showers, potlucks or for a Sunday night dinner for 35 years, she is always prepared.
I remember Mom always having strawberries. She would use them to make jams and desserts.
One of our favorite desserts that she made for us through the years was Strawberry Shortcake. It was no ordinary, store-bought cake. This was the sweetest, buttery, flakiest biscuit topped with fresh strawberries. I have discovered there is a technique to mixing this shortcake. I have the recipe and the end result is not always like Mom’s.
I’m waiting for fresh Arkansas strawberries to make my favorite dessert memory from Mom. (Love you, Mom!)
— Beverly Arnold
Owner of Bevy’s, Downtown Conway
Grace Powell O’Neal
I remember my mother as a beautiful, talented, hardworking lady. She and my father, Earl O’Neal of Hope, married in 1923. She sewed and gardened and was a marvelous cook. She used butter, salt pork and bacon drippings. She fixed the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten, as well as raised her own chickens.
On Mother’s Day, she went to her garden and cut us each a red rose to wear to church, symbolizing our mother was alive. She wore a white one. I strive to keep the tradition. What wonderful memories!
– Dorothy Robins, Conway
My oldest memory of my mother’s cooking is her Christmas treats. Every year at the end of November and the first week of December, she seemed to live in the kitchen, baking as many as eight different kinds of sweet and salty Christmas treats. There were several kinds of sugar cookies in the shapes of wreaths and trees, the occasional coconut-sprinkled cookie, Cheese straws, trail mix and my favorite, chocolate-covered peanut butter balls – just to mention a few. After several late nights and long weekends of baking, the jars were all decorated, filled and carefully placed on the mantle. Our family, as well as large numbers of groups and Christmas party attendees, enjoyed these snacks year after year.
– Lance Johnston
Lance Johnston Studios, Conway